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A magnificent sunset over Loch Ness is finale to climb up the Fair Haired Lad’s Pass

By John Davidson

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Returning to a glorious sunset over Loch Ness.
Returning to a glorious sunset over Loch Ness.

Timing is everything, they say. I was lured down to Loch Ness-side by another beautiful evening with plenty of daylight left, and I was rewarded for my efforts.

What an effort it was, though. My plan involved climbing from the loch-side to more than 300 metres in the space of a couple of miles.

Thankfully, what goes up must come down, so my long climb would be followed by a fast and not-so-furious descent which ended with a beautiful sunset over the loch.

I drove down to the layby on the B852 road south of Dores which acts as the starting point for the Change House walk. There was one tent set up and a few folk in a campervan, all acting responsibly I should add.

The Change House is – or was – an old inn where travellers on the old military road on the south side of Loch Ness would stop to change horses, and presumably for some sustenance for themselves as well! Little remains today apart from a few stones overgrown with ferns and flowers.

However, the inn has not been totally forgotten, having been a stopping-off point for Boswell and Johnson, those famous travellers who visited in 1773, describing it as “a wretched hovel”.

Perhaps they didn’t have such a spectacular evening as this on their arrival.

I started my run – which was probably more of a walk for most of the way – by following the little path to the Change House, marked by posts with a white band.

A short way along the lovely shoreside path that winds between the trees and rocks, a little offshoot cuts back sharply to the left. A noticeboard marks the spot where the Change House once stood.

A momentary pause for thought here, and it’s fascinating how much this part of the world has changed in the last 300 years. When the Change House stood, the military roads had just been built to tame the Highlanders and, as well as Boswell and Johnson, visitors would have included government troops, traders and no doubt one or two nefarious characters.

Pondering this, I continued along the path, which soon meets the road. Crossing over, a delightful path climbs at an angle across the wooded hillside. I ignored another trail off to the right and continued through the lush green grass, enjoying the sounds and smells of the forest, the ground laced with wood anemone and bluebells.

A lovely path climbs up through the woodland.
A lovely path climbs up through the woodland.

As the path climbs, it crosses a little wooden bridge at the edge of a cleared area of forest, soon meeting an old rocky track that continues on the same line.

Towards the top of this track, there’s a wooden bench surrounding by sweet smelling, bright yellow gorse flowers. We’ll return here shortly, but first I was aiming for the Fair Haired Lad’s Pass.

At a turning area ahead, a sharp right turn is marked with a blue post and an old green sign for the pass lying on the ground.

The way up is runnable but relentless, so I enjoyed regular spells of walking and stopping to admire the spectacular views. You re-enter the forest and that lush feeling returns, running on soft grass along a clear trail.

An unmarked junction ahead has the potential to catch out those following the South Loch Ness Trail here. Only when you arrive at the junction do you notice the path shooting up and back on yourself to the left. This is the way to go to continue the climb, which now starts to zigzag more steeply as the tree cover starts to thin.

The junction partway up the trail.
The junction partway up the trail.

This historic path is a wonderful route, and it was dry and dusty today. The views down over Loch Ness to Urquhart Bay are truly spectacular and just get better with height.

I was determined to reach the top of the pass before turning round and enjoying the descent of this wonderful path, so I battled up more zigzags until I finally reached the little viewpoint rock a short way from the highest point.

In little over two miles, I had climbed high into the hills and well and truly earned this vista!

After a quick breather, it was time to put the camera away and concentrate on heading down the pass. After tripping on a recent run on easier terrain, I was particularly conscious to lift my feet and not take a tumble with the steep drop down to the loch by my side.

It was exhilarating and uplifting to batter down the zigzags and back along the soft grass to emerge in the clearing and the late evening sunshine.

I continued to the turning point on the track and turned left back onto the old track. There should be a path back to the lay-by from here, and I discovered a little route from just above the bench I had passed earlier.

It’s a little overgrown in parts, but is clear enough to follow as it winds its way down through trees and gorse, opening up onto a great winding path that was also great fun to run down.

Just as I was getting closer to the road, streams of red light from the sun broke through the branches and after I crossed the road for the final little path to the parking spot, I was rewarded with a magnificent sunset over Loch Ness.

Route details

Change House & Fair Haired Lad’s Pass

Distance 4 miles / 6km

Terrain Paths and forest track; steep hills

Start/finish Change House layby, B852

Map OS Landranger 26; Harvey, South Loch Ness Trail

Visiting a historic inn on South Loch Ness-side before climbing to a high pass

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